Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Aha! Now I see it!

Catherine the Great - ever heard of this leader of Russia? She was renown in her time, bringing great increase to the Russian economy throughout her reign. She did much to increase the vast territory of Russia, even extending Russian development into the Alaskan territory. In her brief 67 years on this earth, she took over as Queen after the death of her husband and with increasing help from great generals, admirals, and armies she was able to make Russia the fastest growing country of the time. She is quoted as saying, "I am one of the people who love the why of things." In this respect, we are a lot alike, because I live to understand the why behind things. There are times it gets a little exasperating to not get at the "why" behind a matter - but I keep driving toward it until I can somehow get it fully revealed. She made another very keen observation I wanted to share with you this morning: "For to tempt and to be tempted are things very nearly allied - whenever feeling has anything to do in the matter, no sooner is it excited than we have already gone vastly farther than we are aware of."

But those who chase riches are constantly falling into temptation and snares. They are regularly caught by their own stupid and harmful desires, dragged down and pulled under into ruin and destruction. (I Timothy 6:9 VOICE)

One of the things I have often pursued the "why" behind is this pull of what serves as temptation to me (and others, for that matter). It is kind of an elusive thing at times - evading discovery because it is masked by all manner of pride, fear, and mistrust.  I think Catherine may have hit the nail on the head with her observation, though. You see, she indicates what most of us already somehow know, but fail to fully recognize in our "fight to resist" the ugly temptation in front of us.  It is simply the mistrust we have in our feelings - we rely upon them way too much!  When feeling has entered the picture, we find we go way further than we ever intended to go. Intention is the thing behind our will-power, but feeling is the enemy of our intention!

It is important to recognize temptation is not a "thing" that just happens somewhere along the way.  It exists all around us, but isn't really all that recognizable because it is there as a "trap" and as my pastor so eloquently put it last weekend, traps aren't meant to be seen!  They are called traps because you don't easily recognize them!  You wouldn't step into one if you knew it was going to fling you twenty feet into the air and leave you suspended like a ham in the smokehouse!  What causes us to not see the trap?  It isn't that we are incapable of recognizing the trap, it is that we aren't really looking for one!

The "why" behind temptation may very well be the mistrust we place in our emotions (feelings).  We allow them to carry us along, almost without any constraint or restraint.  Then in a moment in time, we are caught up in the trap, dangling there wondering how on earth we ended up where we are at the moment.  As Catherine so aptly pointed out, as soon as our feelings are "excited", we have been carried way further into the temptation than we might really be willing to acknowledge.  As so many have told me, they didn't see it coming!  Truth be told, we did "sense" it though - we "felt it" and we didn't know how to resist or constrain those feelings.

The why behind temptation may not always be a specific action, but rather a trust in a particular "feeling" or "emotion" more than we recognize.  We pay attention to the feeling more than we pay attention to our well-orchestrated plan to resist!  The sooner we understand the pitiful state of trusting in what we feel over trusting what we know to be true, the sooner we will begin to see the clever trap laid at our feet!  Just sayin!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thank you

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness, I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments, near with Your protection and guidance, I am comforted.  (Psalm 23:4 VOICE)

If you have ever been to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., then you have probably had one of those moments looking out over the vast "sea" of white headstones in wonder at all the thousands of fallen who gave their life in the defense of the United States of America.  It is the only cemetery to actually hold men and women from each and every war fought by our country since the Revolutionary War and even some which have been re-interred from the War of 1812. You may not realize that section 27 actually contains civilians - slaves who worked the property in Freedman's Village - with their headstones simply reading "civilian" or "citizen" instead of listing their branch of military service. I have stood in awe, not over the memorial of JFK like some, but at the gravesides of young men, fathers, uncles, and even some women who gave their lives. 

The tours speak of the "notable" graves, but I tend to see those not mentioned on those tours. The mess cooks who did their best with the rations they were given to satisfy the hunger of soldiers in the thick of battle.  The nurses who bound up wounds and listened to the stories of home told by soldiers who would no longer walk, see, or hold their children in their arms again. The men and women who acted as leaders, some barely much older than high school graduates, given the charge of each life under their command. The mechanics who tinkered with engines, maintained generators, and held plane engines together with baling wire. The foot soldiers who hunkered down in cold and damp foxholes trying to drown out the sounds of battle so they could catch a few winks of sleep.  They may not be "notable" on the programs or tours, but they are in my book!

I've watched solemnly as the horse-drawn hearse made its way to the grave of the recently fallen, family and friends gathered, uniformed pall bearers executing each step of the service with precision and utmost decorum. It makes no matter if there is a 21-gun salute, or a simple graveside service, honoring the fallen is their mission.  If you stop long enough, listen close enough, read enough of those gravestones, and just linger under the shade of one of the mighty trees along the way, you will begin to notice something - these graves have been watered with the tears of much grief.  You will begin to sense the tremendous amount of loss our nation has endured in the defense of its freedom, but you will also sense the depth of loss each family suffered - those are the tears which watered these graves, my friends. Another thing you might notice is just how short that "dash" is between their date of birth and that of their death.  We may not know the exact time, but death is certain to us all - some taken way too soon. We may not understand all done on our behalf by those who have gone before, but we live as we do simply because they did what they did.  

Just a short pause today to honor those who have given their all in service to our country.  Rememberin....

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Is that really a temptation?

Any temptation you face will be nothing new. But God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can handle. But He always provides a way of escape so that you will be able to endure and keep moving forward. (I Corinthians 10:13 VOICE)

Temptation is something we all deal with - no matter how much we think we have overcome some particular thing, we occasionally find ourselves being tempted again in that area.  I think it is Satan's way of trying to tell God we haven't "really" overcome in that area - like he taunts us to prove we are not as "far ahead" in our right-living as we might want to think we are.  He never "let up" with Jesus - what makes us think he'd be willing to let up on his resistance of us moving forward in this life with Jesus?

Temptation isn't always something we have control over - we can find ourselves in situations where we are tempted without even knowing we were headed into it.  Most of the time, we set up well planned stages of resistance to any temptation which is "common" to us.  Let me assure you of this - Satan not only knows what is "common" to us - those things which will trip us quicker than anything else - he also knows how he can catch us off-guard by coming at us in ways we never really knew to plan for in our resistance planning!  It isn't that he is "all-knowing", he just knows all the tactics in the book!

I saw something this morning as I was re-reading this passage which I wanted to bring to your attention today.  Most of us can quote this passage about God not letting us be tempted beyond what we can handle or endure.  Even the part about finding a way of escape because he will provide it probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to those who have heard this passage.  The thing which caught my attention was the idea of temptation being what "holds us back" or keeps us from moving forward.  

You see, temptation is like a weight around our ankles, just holding us back, acting as an impediment to our forward progress.  If we think of it that way, then the things in life not necessarily "put there" by Satan as a tripping up point also have the capability of being considered temptations.  For example, if the computer screen and all the things we can behold on it keep us from interacting with a loved one, developing lasting and meaningful relationships, or taking enough time to get alone with Jesus to actually hear from him about our lives, then it is a temptation for us.  Unless I am wrong, Satan didn't buy us that computer!  He simply enjoys the distraction it places in our lives because it keeps us from being a bother to him!

I'd like to challenge each of us today to consider what it is in our lives which keeps us from making forward progress.  It may not be easily recognizable at first, but we may just find that some of the ordinary stuff of life acts as "temptation" to us - not really getting us to "do wrong", but keeping us from taking forward steps into "doing what is right", nonetheless.  Just considerin!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Ruin requires rescue

For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power. (I Corinthians 1:18 VOICE)

Ruin is the downfall, decay, or destruction of anything.  We call old dwellings we uncover in archaeological digs as "ruins", but we all refer to toast charred to a crisp in the toaster as "ruined".  Three things about ruin we need to realize:

1. It describes a condition in which the thing or one who was on the rise at one point is now on the decline.  It can be caused by being taken down a notch, as when we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  It can also be caused by being overthrown, as when someone goes up against another and finds they just didn't have the capacity or "talent" to continue in a position they wanted to maintain.  The decline can be gradual, or at such a whirlwind speed it makes one's head spin.  The precursor to a downfall is not always recognizable, but in the instances we discussed here, an individual usually has some issue of "pride" at the center of their upward climb which results in reaching a point where pride actually becomes the very thing which causes their "downfall".  

2. It can also describe the gradual process of "rotting away" where you stand. A long time ago, a good friend asked me if I was ready to take a big step forward in my career.  I was scared to death, but I also knew I could do it if I was given the right support.  Her wise words have stuck with me for years.  She simply reminded me that "green" meant I was still growing; "ripe" meant I was actually beginning the process of rotting where I was planted.  She wanted me to understand the importance of keeping myself in a position where I did not become too complacent in my work, always taking on new challenges, and keeping myself in a place where I could grow.  I think of her often as I consider those words, because they have been repeated many times by me as I speak with others going through times of feeling burnt out, wanting to take steps toward something new.  The truth is simple - we will rot if we just sit too long in the same place in life.  In relationships, for example, we sometimes allow a place of stagnancy to come which eventually becomes the means by which "ruin" or "decay" occurs.  If we are to avoid decay, we have to pay attention to the condition of our lives - that which is ignored long enough becomes the means by which decay is introduced.

3. It can also represent the condition described best by one whose life is reduced to useless fragments.  The sum of the fragments equals the whole, but as long as the fragments are reduced to a pile of rubble by either neglect or attack, the pile is really just a ruin.  We all have times when we feel like our life may contain "piles of rubble", but when our entire life begins to feel like that we get to a place of despair and depression.  Decay and decline left long enough will eventually lead to a place where we feel our life is "destroyed" beyond "putting back together again" - much like the old nursery rhyme of Humpty Dumpty.

The good news is that God specializes in taking run down, rejected, somewhat abused or overused lives and turning them into things of beauty beyond belief. We might think nothing good can come our of our messed up lives, but the good news is that of "rescue".  In places of ruin the only time something good comes out of that place is when there is a rescue!  God is our rescuer - he is the one who has the ability to seek out the living soul among the rubble of life's ruins. We just need to trust him to do the work of rescue!  Just sayin!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Giving up isn't always admitting defeat

A.W. Tozer once commented about this idea of God's control - things looking all amiss and out of control "behind the scenes" in our lives, while all the time he is just waiting for us to realize he has never given up control. I think we might all just have those times in life when we think God has somehow stepped away from the control panel - like he has taken leave of watching over us for a while and in the evolving time between his "leaving the control center" and now we can see all of life just taking on a totally "out of control" spin. As Tozer put it, it isn't him being "out of control" as much as him wanting us to realize he "is in control".

We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. (Romans 8:20 VOICE)

The passage of time, especially when things seem to be spinning out of control, can be a real issue for some of us.  In those "spaces of time" between feeling like things are "in control" and then realizing we are "spinning" again, we often begin a process some liken to panicking.  Why?  We haven't fully learned who it is that is really in control of our lives.  As some may imagine, there are time when the spinning out of control really is meant to reveal just how much WE have been trying to control things.  At other times, it may be that God is simply trying to reveal to us that we can trust him with our lives - he has us under his wings, but we don't fully accept that yet.

It seems to me that both lessons are difficult to learn.  Whether we are learning to give up the "right" to be in control of our lives, or we are laying hold of what it means to fully place our trust in God's control, both are sometimes harder to learn than almost any other lesson in life.  Yet, both lessons are truly based in the same thing - trust.  Who is it we will trust to "run our lives" - to determine the "outcome"?  Holding fast to our own desire to be in control is simply saying we cannot trust anything outside of our own ability. I don't know how that has worked in your life, but I can speak for myself on that matter - I don't have all the ability I need in life! There are just things I cannot see, don't understand, and really haven't any knowledge about.  To trust in my ability to get through those things, figuring them out on my own, is like me trying to build a ship which would actually stay afloat in the high seas!

I might be able to lash together a small raft to take me down a lazy river somewhere, but I could no sooner build a sea-worthy ship than I could build an airplane!  There are just some things I need to leave to those who actually know the aero-dynamics of flight, or the buoyancy of a vessel in water.  There are also things in life which I know a "little bit" about, but I am not an expert.  I can get by on what I know, but when I rely upon someone who knows it better than I do even after all this time of "learning", it seems to get done easier, faster, and with better outcomes!  Sometimes the greatest sense of "being in control" is when I don't resist the control another rightfully should have!  Just sayin....

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A cherry pit

Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.  (James 3:17-18 VOICE)

At the center of a cherry is a pit.  The purpose of the pit isn't to just "fill space" - it is surrounded by juicy cherry pulp, but in and of itself, the pit is just a pit.  As the cherry falls to the ground, the cherry pulp begins to break down.  As it does, it provides a way for the pit to be nourished and then to take root, growing into a new cherry tree.  Without the pulp, the pit is kind of on its own.  It is much like just getting book learning "wisdom" of some sort, but not having it surrounded by the stuff which actually feeds it until it becomes the wisdom God would want us to actually use in our lives!

Heavenly wisdom is that which is fed by purity, gentleness, deference, mercy and other good fruits "untainted" by hypocrisy. That is a mouthful, to say the least, so let's break that down a little. As we are being taught of God, one thing comes through very clearly - his wisdom is contained in an atmosphere of purity - that place "untainted" by anything which pollutes.  Inside every "good teaching" is a little bit of truth we need in our lives.  We have to learn to find the "pit" in every good teaching and then allow it to be surrounded by the "pulp" of God's Spirit until that teaching breaks down a little, allowing that truth to take root in our lives.  Some of us are so concerned with the "pulp", we forget the pit!  The pulp satisfies us right now, but the pit will keep us satisfied for a long, long time!

Heavenly wisdom actually is nurtured in an atmosphere of by peace and gentleness. If we are to see wisdom take root, we need to surround it with enough peace in our mind and soul to actually allow it to speak to us.  We also need to keep in mind the importance of gentleness - the "evenness" of temperament which embraces the good stuff and rejects the stuff which will harm. To this we add the mixture of mercy and "deference".  Deference is just a big word to describe our will yielding to the will of the one who is teaching us.  Jesus always said to his disciples, "Follow me", not "Lead me."  There is room for one leader in our lives and wisdom requires it to be Christ.  The pulp of the cherry knows it is "good stuff", but until it fulfills the true purpose for its existence, it is just "good stuff".  What moves it from being "good stuff" to being "awesome" is when it fulfills the purpose for which it was created - to be an avenue for growth and development.

The reason heavenly wisdom is nurtured and grows best in the atmosphere of peace, gentleness, and deference is because it knows the benefits and blessings of grace (mercy).  The cherry could be a blessing to one, or it could be a blessing to many. Grace is never meant to be enjoyed alone, my friends.  It is meant to become a blessing to many who will be nurtured under the widespread boughs of its branches and with the plethora of fruit it will produce for others to enjoy!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Solitude or Isolation?

Whoever pulls away from others to focus solely on his own desires disregards any sense of sound judgment.  (Proverbs 18:1 VOICE)

Joseph Roux stated, "Solitude vivifies; isolation kills."  You might have to mull that one over a little to really get the meat of it, but in essence he is saying moving into a place of being secluded is a little different than totally isolating one's self from others.  We all need a little solitude now and again - just to recharge our batteries.  In a medical sense, the only time we use isolation is when we are trying to control the spread of a very bad disease!

At times, a place of solitude becomes a place where we empty ourselves of all the stuff which has been gathering within us and draining us of our energies. In a place of solitude, we get a moment to breathe, to just "chill" - in so doing, we are actually lightening our burden and getting ready for the next steps we might be considering taking.  Some might equate solitude with isolation, but one accomplishes rest while the other "quarantines" one away from others, depriving the one isolated from the contact with others even when they might desire that contact.

I usually find some time for solitude at some regular intervals - because without it, I don't "recharge" quite as well.  It is hard to have the regular demands of life placed upon you day after day without some time to recharge.  When we move into that place of solitude we don't always have to be alone.  In fact, some of my best times of recharging are just "hanging out" with a close friend, not really talking much, or doing any real purposeful activity - we are just enjoying the place of purposeful rest we find ourselves in.  

Solitude is purposeful - isolation is restrictive and kind of desolate.  Many patients who are placed into isolation tell us they feel a little "left out" and maybe not even visited as much as they'd have liked.  It may be because of the extreme amount of time and energies which go into donning mask, gloves, gowns, and the like each and every time you make contact with that individual, or it may just be that the barriers between that person and the one all covered in protective gear actually act as a little bit of a barrier emotionally.  

Isolation actually does something pretty significant - it disconnects us emotionally from others.  Solitude recharges us for those contacts again - allowing us to come back into those connections re-energized and able to fully invest in those relationships again.  The difference between these two is significant - one isolates us further, while the other prepares us for what is ahead. Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I will cast my cares on you

So, humble yourselves under God’s strong hand, and in his own good time he will lift you up. You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.  (I Peter 5:6-7 PHILLIPS)  

There is a song which comes to me, many times in the wee hours of the dark night when I am just there in bed, awake for no apparent reason with my head rushing from one thought to another.  It is the song "Cast My Cares".  The chorus is my favorite part of the song: "I will cast my cares on you. You're the anchor of my hope, the only one who's in control. I will cast my cares on you. I'll trade the troubles of this world for your peace inside my soul."  The song is written by Blake Neesmith, Casey Brown, and Sam Tinnesz - three individuals singing as "Finding Favour".  I am not sure why this song repeatedly comes to mind in those hours, but I think you know where I am going with this - those things running around in my head aren't going to be "fixed" because I am losing sleep ruminating on them!  When I place them squarely into the strong hands of Jesus, they are lifted from my mind, releasing my body (and soul) to finally rest.

The words of the chorus which speak the loudest to me in the "quietest of times" are the ones about God being the anchor of my hope - the only one who is actually totally in control!  Why do those words mean so much to me?  I am one of those people who thinks they can find the solutions to things - and many times God guides me to do just that.  I can never forget he is the one guiding me into those solutions, though!  It isn't because I "control" the situation, or really influence the outcome.  It is simply me yielding to his direction, giving way to his plans - this how the the solutions come.

An anchor holds one firm - so the things attempting to set us adrift don't actually accomplish that feat.  When an anchor is firmly planted, it has the ability to hold well beyond the weight of the anchor.  I am amazed at the "smallness" of the anchor in comparison to the "vastness" of the ship!  It isn't the size of the anchor, it is the "hold" the anchor obtains when it is allowed to do what it was designed to do.  When we anchor our thoughts in Christ, we find our mind wanders less into places it should not be, entertaining thoughts not meant for us to entertain.  When we anchor our hope in Christ's ability and not our own, we find we have a hold not easily broken, even when the realization of the goal is still not present with us.

As our passage points out today, we are the object of God's personal concern (his personal care).  The "casting" of one's cares upon him is really allowing our hearts, minds, and souls to take "anchor" in the "solidness" of his care.  We stop trying to find "anchor" in our own solutions, and we allow the "hold" we seek to be found in him.  We can try to figure life out on our own, or we can allow our lives to be kept from being set adrift by anchoring into the hope we have in his ability and carefulness over our lives.  I choose the latter - even if it means I have to keep reminding myself where my anchor is secured over and over again until my mind catches up with my heart!  Just sayin!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Passing Through

Robert Frost once said, "The best way out is always the way through." Most of the time, the way "through" is not always the most comfortable, but it is the most rewarding!  We could all probably fill a book or two with all the things we have been "through", but those which might just rise to the top for me are those which left the most permanent mark on my life.  There are good things, like the birth of my two children - each uniquely lasting memories in my mind which brought such joy.  The purchase of my first home - a fixer-upper to say the least, but mine nonetheless - a place we could call our own.  The day I watched each of my children receive their diplomas from high school - marking a right of passage for each of them and a time of transition for me as my nest would soon be empty and quiet.  The morning my dad passed - with all the corresponding rehearsal of memories we had made through our years together, knowing no more memories would be ever be made. The day my marriage was ended - complete with the lingering darkness and void it left in my soul. We get nowhere in just standing still - we only get out as we go through! Sometimes we don't want "out" because the thing we are going "through" is rather enjoyable, but at others, we cannot find the "other side" quick enough!

When you face stormy seas I will be there with you with endurance and calm; you will not be engulfed in raging rivers. If it seems like you’re walking through fire with flames licking at your limbs, keep going; you won’t be burned.  (Isaiah 43:2 VOICE)

There is much "meat" in this passage for the hungry soul - the soul yearning for "passage" from where they are now to where they really desire to be.  Notice God doesn't tell us "if" we face stormy seas - it is "when" we face them.  To me, this speaks of the inevitability of the storms - they cannot be permanently avoided. We will go through them - so we need to know how to make it through those dark places and to not linger too long in those places where we are only meant to "pass through".

God comes into the midst of our storm, but he never arrives empty-handed.  He brings endurance and calm - two things we cannot muster on our own.  We might think we could endure, but when the waves start tossing us a little more aggressively than we might like, we want a life vest, don't we?  One would think God would bring calm, but why endurance?  If he is the all-powerful one, why doesn't he just calm everything down, set everything in order, and let us get on with life?  I think it is a little obvious - we don't get much of anything out of the storm that way!  Deliverance might be a good plan in our eyes, but endurance is God's!  He knows the storm has lessons within it, so he gives us endurance in order to make it "through".

Next, we need to see that no matter how "engulfing" the storm, we won't be overtaken by it.  Two word pictures are given here - that of the waves engulfing the one on the high seas, and one of the fire licking at our heels.  If you have ever sailed the seas, you might have looked down from the railing of the ship to see dark and expansive water.  As far as you could look, water was in your view and not a speck of land was to be seen.  The waters churned underneath you, but the depth of their expanse was totally unrealized to you.  You were "sailing over" them, safe in a large sailing vessel.  Imagine being out there in a canoe!  The moment a small swell started to toss you here and there, you might begin to consider the expanse and the depth of the waters a little more carefully!  We sometimes don't know the "engulfing" power of the seas we set sail on until we realize how small we are in comparison to the effects of the sea!  

The fire licking at our heels may not seem like much, but most know the reality of fire - it is fueled by the storm!  The winds serve to increase the size of those flames, spreading red-hot embers into places previously unaffected by the fiery flames.  Worse yet, the effects of the smoke creep closer and closer until everything in the path of that smoke plume are engulfed in its darkness and smothering hold.  The fire may get close - for licking at your heels is closer than I'd like.  Yet, the fire can do no damage to one who is covered with the fire retardant only God provides!  Forest fires are fought by valiant men and women who learn an important skill - to duck and cover when the flames turn their way.  In the midst of the fire, the most effective means of escape isn't always to outrun it - sometimes we allow it to pass over us, "ducking and covering" under God's grace until the flames have passed us by.  Just sayin!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Enjoy the Journey!

If a person lives many years, then he should learn to enjoy each and every one; but he should not forget the dark days ahead, for there will be plenty of them. All that is to come—whether bright days or dark—is fleeting.  Be happy, and celebrate all of the goodness of youth while you are young. Cultivate a cheerful heart every day you have youth. Go where your heart takes you. Take in the sights. Enjoy, but remember that God will hold us accountable for all that we do.  When all is said and done, clear your mind of all its worries. Free your body of all its troubles while you can, for youth and the prime of life will soon vanish. (Ecclesiastes 11:8-10 VOICE)

Bette Davis said, "Old age is no place for sissies".  Isn't that the truth! Someone else said something along the line of doing all this stuff, spending all this money, exerting all this effort to help someone actually reach old age, but completely missing the very thing they need the most:  The ability to enjoy it!  The key to living many years is in the ability to actually enjoy those years - not in the by and by, but in the here and now!

Thomas Hardy gives us some interesting insight:  "The value of old age depends upon the person who reaches it.  To some men of early performance it is useless.  To others, who are late to develop, it just enables them to finish the job."  I think he has something there - we can "peak" early, driving hard and accomplishing much very early on.  In our old age, will we have the energies to enjoy it?  Not likely - because we "used up" all the energies we had trying to accomplish all that in our youth.

I am a believer in "slow and steady" growth.  All growth is progressive and at times we do seem to grow in "spurts", but once we reach a certain point, we "level off", don't we?  The "leveling off" point doesn't have to be the end for us. It can be a place of fresh beginnings - of doing new things, exploring new insights, and coming into new places of enjoyment.  Our writer's advice - clear your mind of all its worries - free your body of all its troubles.  I think these two things might just be key to us enjoying life well into old age!

A free mind - one uncluttered with all the worries of life - is able to embrace new truths, explore new things, and take in new wonders.  One cluttered beyond capacity is quite limited in what else it can allow in without having to let something out!  Mind and body go hand in hand - a cluttered mind makes very little way for an unburdened body!  It isn't how fast we accomplish growth - it is that we actually appreciate the growth - enjoying the journey!  Just sayin!

Saturday, May 21, 2016


For You shaped me, inside and out. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.  (Psalm 139:13-14 VOICE)
We have probably heard that little quip, "God don't make no junk". We could also say, "God doesn't make mistakes".  Consider this for just a moment...
When God made you and I, he made us "IN his own image" (Genesis 1:26).  "Now let us conceive a new creation - humanity - made in our image, fashioned according to our likeness."  When we complain about the "image" we bear, we are really saying we don't like the image of God, since we are fashioned "according to the likeness of God".  If a sculptor had a model upon a stool for a whole day, chipping away at the stone from which he would fashion the "likeness" of the one on the stool, wouldn't it be expected the "image" of what he created would closely resemble the model?  Certainly!  That is the purpose of the model!  To have a "pattern" to follow.  I will leave us with a little list of things to consider anytime we want to complain about the way God has created us:
1. We are acceptable to God - completely forgiven - so nothing we "do" or "don't do" is going to make us more acceptable to him. (Romans 5:1)
2. Because of the work of Christ on our behalf, we are made new - even the stuff we think would make us "unacceptable" or "flawed goods" in some respect really aren't part of who we are any longer. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
3. We may have BEEN sinners, but that is not who we are once we say "yes" to Jesus - we are now "grace-born" and as such, we are no longer under the rule or control of sin in our lives.  Sure, sin's pull still exists, but we are no longer defined as "sinner", but as "saint".  (Romans 6:1-6)
4. The "old me" may want to take control on occasion, but I need to remember I am a new creation - old things don't have to control me (or you). We may think we cannot ever move from doing the "bad stuff" we once did into a place of doing the "good stuff" we want to do, but truth be told, we live by a new life resident within us. (Galatians 2:20)
5. God calls us each a "masterpiece" - created in Christ's image - to do good works.  Any other "image" we might think we bear is really a "false image" because we are all masterpiece creations. (Ephesians 5:10)
God doesn't make junk!  In fact, he makes "junk" into masterpiece creations!  Just sayin!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Disposition matters

Charm is that "magical" power to please or attract through one's personality or beauty, almost as though someone were "under the spell" of the one with so much "charm".  Charm is not a bad thing, but one can become obsessed with the things one believes will make them "more charming".  Beauty is not bad - but the continual, obsessive pursuit of the next greatest "fad" designed to make or keep you "beautiful" can become somewhat like the worship of beauty.  A great personality is indeed a plus for the one's who have to "deal with you" day after day, but sometimes we "label" someone's personality as "dry", "introverted", and the like.  We aren't always attracted to those individuals because they aren't "out there" in the lime-light all the time.  If there weren't a few "dry" or "introverted" individuals in this world, I don't think we'd have ever discovered things we enjoy pretty much right now - like electricity, social media, and Facebook!  We cannot be deceived by what we see on the outside - as my mom always used to tell me, "You cannot judge a book by its cover."

Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last, but a woman who reveres the Eternal should be praised above all others. (Proverbs 31:30 VOICE)

There is one trait which makes an individual absolutely irresistible and that would be the deep, truthful reverence of the Lord as the center of one's life.  The individual who makes Christ the most important part of their life may not always be the most extroverted, "in the lime-light", kind of person, but they are trustworthy, well-balanced, and overwhelmingly joyful at the core of their being. 
"Inner beauty" as some might refer to it is not something we "possess" as much as it is in being "possessed by another".  It is Jesus in control of our hearts which brings forth that inner beauty in ways others may not be able to resist!

When we focus on our inner beauty, the outer beauty is something which doesn't count on us wearing the latest of styles, having the most perfectly manicured nails, or even sporting the most flattering of hair styles.  Inner beauty begins to reflect in our actions - something which speaks much louder than any of the "outer adornments" we ever might pursue.  Inner beauty is what gives us true "charm" - that which has some "appeal" which cannot be denied.

There are times we spend more time and effort on what we consider to be the things which will "keep us young" or "make us attractive". Sadly, we ignore the most significant of actions we can ever take - spending time with Jesus, just nuzzled up to him, drawing from his strength, learning from his words, and taking in his peace.  Those moments do more to "build us up" than we might realize - changing our "sour disposition" into a much more "pleasing" disposition. What attracts us to people isn't their talent as much as their "disposition".  Our disposition is the dominant (prevailing) tendency of our spirit - some call it our "prevailing attitude".  Get the spirit aligned with Jesus and the "prevailing attitude" of our lives changes!

We may not think much about "charm", but if scripture records the "beauty" one might describe in an individual, we might just do well to consider the value of a "disposition" bent toward grace!  Just sayin!

Thursday, May 19, 2016


You cried out to Me, I heard your distress, and I delivered you; I answered you from the secret place,where clouds of thunder roll.  (Psalm 81:7 VOICE)

Distress is the condition of great pain, anxiety, or sorrow.  It can be real or imagined - acute or chronic.  It have both physical and mental aspects.  The extent to which one experiences distress has the potential to also be the extent to which one experiences God's deliverance and grace!  "The darkest day, if you live till tomorrow, will have passed away."  (William Cowper)  Much can be said about the dawning of a new day and the potential it brings, but even the brightest of days can be overshadowed by the greatest of distress.

If you ever wondered why those who are in distress send out the "S.O.S" signal, it may because in those places of our darkest hours we experience the depth of longing for someone to simply "save our souls".  We cannot do it ourselves and we earnestly desire for someone else to come along, bear the burden we have been carrying, and release us from the tremendous physical and mental anguish we have been enduring.  The one experiencing the sinking ship doesn't need another oar, but rather a life raft!  God knows our specific need and he matches the intervention with that need!

God isn't cruel when he awaits our cries for help - sending up those "save our souls" messages to him.  It is almost as though he allows us to experience a little more of the salty waters battering us around more than we'd like, because the truth is that even in the darkest hour of our anguish, we sometimes think we can swim to shore!  Many of us would rather swim than admit we need anyone to intervene for us - that is until the sharks start circling us!  Amazingly, the strength which bore us up in determined stubbornness up to the point we saw the fins emerge from the darkest sea just vanishes in the presence of that which now stands between us and our deliverance!

Distress isn't God's plan for our lives, but it may be what drives us to our knees, allowing us to admit we are not able to "swim to shore".  It may be what reveals the hardness of our hearts, but it just may also be the avenue by which God shows us how much our hearts can be changed in his care.  Job was a man who lived his life to please God and he experienced some of the greatest of distress a man can endure.  He lost flocks and herds to the invading thieves, wildfires, and gangs from far off lands - financial woes.  He lost all his children to the ravages of a storm so great it leveled the home where they were gathered to feast together - relationship woes.  He lost his health, experiencing great physical agony on top of these financial and relationship woes.  Yet, in all his agony (distress), he comes to the same conclusion - God awaits his cries for help.

Did Job get there immediately, or did he have to wallow in his distress a little? It may give you encouragement to realize he was just like us - wallowing a little, agonizing over his condition, and even complaining about what fate had come his way.  He even was observed questioning if he actually "deserved" this misfortune.  Sound like anyone you might know?  I can admit to some of the same reactions to my own distress in life - I didn't like it one bit, complained a whole lot, and eventually came to the same conclusion as did Job - when we are willing to lift the "SOS", God is finally free to intervene!  As long as we continue to think we can save our own souls, God will allow us to experience the futility of that plan!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We are all part of one another....

You know how you read through scripture, noticing some truths here and there, and all of a sudden something you have read a gillion times just sticks out to you this time?  I have these moments once in a while, too.  They are like the Holy Spirit says "here's something you might want to grab hold of today" and the words just seem to be the ones I pay attention to in a new way.  I love the Pauline epistles, so I "frequent" them often.  They are probably some of my "favorite" parts of the Word.  I think I connect with David in the Old Testament because he struggled with "real stuff" and he messed up, but he always came back to God in repentance, looking for restoration, and finding more than enough grace to enter into God's presence each time.  I connect with the Apostle Paul because he was kind of a "know it all" Pharisee who needed to be "cut down" a few notches in order to see truth as God would have him see it.  There have been times when I counted on what I "knew" because I had "studied", believing somehow that made me "okay" with God, instead of leaning into the relationship God desired with me and trusting in his grace, not my own merit or good works.  Regardless of who we "connect" with in scripture, one thing is true - we are all part of one another.  None of us is without importance in God's family - none of is of more importance than the other.  We ALL matter.  We ALL belong.

So put away your lies and speak the truth to one another because we are all part of one another. It’s time to stop bringing grief to God’s Holy Spirit; you have been sealed with the Spirit, marked as His own for the day of rescue. Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poison. Instead, be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through the Anointed, our Liberating King.  (Ephesians 4:25, 30-32 VOICE)

Belonging to means to be part of - to be adjunct to the make up of the whole.  Without that part, the object in question is "less than whole".  None of us is without need of the other.  Just as reliant as we are on plants to produce oxygen into the atmosphere, we are reliant upon one another for the "richness" of growth which takes place in our lives.  I think this is why Paul takes a moment to really call us out on our "behavior" in the family of God.  He tells us to be truthful with one another - not because we need to point out each other's faults, but because we cannot truly see ourselves as we are. We need the reflection of our behavior through the eyes of another. My pastor puts it this way:  The eye cannot see the eye.  In other words, I can see WITH the eye, but the eye cannot look back into itself to see itself.  We often cannot see our own behavior as it is seen by others - we need their sight, not just our own "insight".

Bad behavior is sometimes covered up under the guise of "it was a rough day", or "you deserved that".  We excuse it because we felt justified to some extent because of the pressures of the day, or the bad behavior of another.  If we examine the impact of our behavior in a different light, we might just be convicted to deal with our behavior a little quicker.  We are all PART of one another.  We aren't just "us" existing as separate from one another - our lives "fit" together.  As such, when the wrong behavior is exhibited, it is like trying to make a connection of a bunch of puzzle pieces when the one piece we are trying to connect to "sort of fits", but not really.  Paul is telling us to not tolerate that behavior - banish it! There is a similar word picture of this concept in the Old Testament. At certain times of the year, the priests would take a goat (referred to as a scapegoat), lay their hands on the goat, ask God to see this goat as "bearing the sins of the people", and then they'd set the goat free to wander further and further from the camp until it was completely gone and out of sight.  The idea was one of "banishing sin".  It was "expelled" from the camp.  

We aren't supposed to tolerate bad behavior because it hurts the whole.  This might just mean we need to be honest with each other in a kind way and help each other see what we cannot see in ourselves.  If I am part of something, I usually exhibit a little more "carefulness" with that thing.  If we begin to see ourselves as part of one another, connected by the blood of Jesus into inseparable relationship with one another, we might just begin to exhibit a little more "carefulness" over our relationships with one another.  Instead of allowing excuses for bad behavior, we might just ask the other person to help us consider our behavior in the light of how it affects not only the one exhibiting that behavior (you and I), but those who are subject to that behavior.  To truly grow together, we need the first recognize we are not just one of many, we are all part of the whole.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Not always willing to make the journey?

C.S. Lewis said, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching."  As a child, I am not proud to admit it, but I did things "behind my parents' backs" that I would never have done if they were watching. I kind of followed those around me who were using a little more colorful language than my parents would allow, or I treated others in a way which made absolutely no sense simply because others were treating them that way first.  As kids, we do some of these things thinking our actions will never be discovered. The problem with that belief is that NOTHING we do is ever totally and completely "secret". Someone is always watching. Someone will always hear.  Someone will always see. That someone?  God!  

The path of integrity is always safe, but a person who follows a crooked way will be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9 VOICE)

My parents always tried to teach me the lesson to live "in private" as I would want others to see me "in public".  In the mind of a child, that didn't always make sense because we didn't equate our actions as having any "lasting effect" or "discoverability".  As an adult, if we are still living thinking our actions will have no "lasting effect", we are what some might refer to as "deceived".  No action, in private or in public, is without "effect" on others - nothing simply effects us and us alone.  Maybe one of the frequently recited sayings of my parents will ring true in your memory, as well:  "Lies snowball, so always tell the truth."  What my parents were trying to teach is this lesson of living with enough integrity to not cover up my sin with another sinful deed.  In other words, don't use one lie to cover over another because before long, it will be hard to keep the lies straight!

It is a lesson I tried to pass on to my children.  I think I taught it this way:  Always live in such a way that when anyone wants to accuse you of misdeeds, others won't believe it.  I called it "living above suspicion".  Just be the kind of person who has so much integrity about them that others could not possibly doubt your integrity. It isn't easy living this way - because we all want to have those moments in time when we "detach" from we know is right and do what "feels good".  Like when we unload a barrel of attitude on some unsuspecting stranger just because the frustrations of the day have been bearing down on us and then walk away thinking no one will ever know how unkind and foolish we just acted.  For just a moment, that release of all that pressure that had been building through the day felt "good", but it left a sour taste in your mouth, didn't it?  If you have ever found yourself going back to apologize, you know what it is to live a life of integrity!  "In the moment" it felt "good", but in the after period, it kind of ate at your conscience. Why?  You know you didn't reveal the intensity of God's love and grace which you count on so deeply in your own life to that individual.

Sometimes integrity is "making things right" when you have done things you don't necessarily think anyone else will "discover". There have been times when I have put something in my cart at the store, only to decide about 15 aisles later that I don't want it because I came across something else I wanted more.  What I choose to do with that item at that moment is often a revelation of my integrity.  I could just put it on a shelf somewhere, or I could walk it back all those 15 aisles.  At the end of a truly hard day, how would you handle it?  I have learned something about my integrity when I am tired - I don't always make the journey!  Does living with integrity mean I always have to walk back those 15 aisles? No, but it does mean I give the clerk the item I no longer wanted and ask for it to be "re-stocked".  I imagine they kind of appreciate not having to "find" that item 15 aisles over and the next customer who needs it appreciates it being on the right place on the shelf when they are looking for it!  

When we are fatigued, frustrated, at the end of our rope - integrity is often revealed in the little things we do and say.  It may not always seem like it, but those exchanges and decision-points matter. If we can realize the "weakest" moments in our day are also the moments when we can compromise the "easiest", we make a huge step toward building in some "safeguards" to insure we aren't stepping into choices which will compromise our integrity. It might not always be the easiest to "make the journey" when we are just not feeling up to it, but there is usually a point at which we can admit our weakness and maintain our integrity.  Just sayin!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tending the lawn

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."  (Jim Elliot)   This is truly a "deep" and "profound" observation on this clergyman's part.  To give what we cannot keep is more of a struggle than one may at first imagine. Silly as it may be, we often hold onto practices much like we hold onto things in our lives just because it has been the way we have always done things.  The defining moment comes when we actually realize we cannot get different results while doing exactly the same thing repeatedly, especially if those things are what we are counting on to somehow make us nearer, or more acceptable to God. We do a great deal to "give our best" to God, but even if we repeat the steps over and over again all we give is "our best".  I would much rather give to God what I am not able to give myself - no matter how hard I try!  Grace is something I cannot give myself - it is a gift freely given by him, but which makes all we bring to him in return all that much sweeter!

Therefore, now no condemnation awaits those who are living in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, because when you live in the Anointed One, Jesus, a new law takes effect. The law of the Spirit of life breathes into you and liberates you from the law of sin and death.  (Romans 8:1-2 VOICE)

Mr. Elliot also observed, "God always gives his best to those who leave the choice with him."  As long as we are the ones determining what it is we "think" will make us "good enough" to enjoy closeness or nearness with God, we will always be settling for something less than what God requires.  If you have ever mowed the grass in a particularly rainy season, you know this illustration holds true. The grass looks even, well-tailored, for about 1-2 days.  Then in a matter of just a couple of days, there is a certain "unevenness" to the grass.  Give another couple of days and the thicker places grow at rapid pace, long blades protruding out at all angles.  As we mowed, it looked really nice.  Put that mower away and just sit back to admire the work of your hands - within short order, the "work of your hands" proves to be no match to the power of the sunlight and efficiency of the rain!  Your work just didn't "show" anymore - it was "overtaken" by the fact "untended" grass grows!

Grace puts a different "law" in effect in our lives.  It isn't us "mowing the lawn" of our behavior, attitude, or motives any longer. It is God tending that "lawn" of our lives.  He oversees the "tailoring" of our behavior until it conforms to the image of his Son, Jesus.  He guides the "grooming" of our attitude until it reflects grace, kindness, and the consistency of his love.  He "weeds out" the self-centered and self-seeking motives of our heart until all that remains at the center of our lives is him.  We cannot "keep" or "tend" the "goodness" of our lives on our own.  We need God's tending in order to truthfully realize a consistently "well-groomed", "perfectly tailored" heart, mind, and soul!  We "give up what we could not keep" in order to "gain what we cannot lose"!

All we "do" is never enough.  Grace isn't based upon "doing" - it is based upon what another has done and continues to do on our behalf.  It is like having the best of gardeners continuously working on your lawn, until there is no flaw, not one weed - lush, growing, and vibrant in every detail.  The truth of the matter is that forces will continuously work against that "purity" of growth within us.  We need someone constantly watching over us to ensure the growth is "even" (consistent).  Just sayin!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Another type of campaign

It never ceases to amaze me all the things people will 'protest' against these days.  Whether it be taking an open mike at the county or state government meeting, or carrying pickets outside the offices of our legislators, there are groups "advocating" for some "right".  It could be the right to work for a wage they determine to be better than the present wage, the controversy over which restroom to use at a public establishment, or even that dolphins don't belong in the Arizona desert!  We have coined this "advocating activity" as taking a stand for what we believe.  Our country was founded on the principle a person's opinion mattered - hence we get the laws around the freedom of speech.  Yes, we do have the freedom to advocate or protest, but the real question is if we are "taking a stand" for the right things?

Stand up for the poor and the orphan; advocate for the rights of the afflicted and those in need. Deliver the poor and the needy; rescue them from their evil oppressors. (Psalm 82:3-4 VOICE)

I have to be truthful here - I don't usually listen to any of the presidential debates, really focus on their campaign messages, or put much faith in what the written media reports about them.  Why?  I am put off by the lack of respect we actually allow within these so called "campaign" speeches. Any more, campaigns are run as "mean" as they can be - working hard to uncover the "dirt" in someone's past or focus on their inadequacies rather than to focus on the needs of our country and how they themselves will work with others to see those needs met.  People are busy "taking stands", but are they taking a stand for things which really matter?

God tells us to stand up for the poor and the orphan.  The poor are "impoverished" in some manner - it could be their inability to find meaningful employment which allows them to provide for their needs, or their life circumstances which have left them reduced into a place of suffering all the time.  The orphan used to just describe someone without parents - no one to care for their needs as they grew up in this world. In today's sense of the word, it would be anyone (or anything) who has been "cast away" as of little value or worth.  If you are an animal rights advocate, you would see the abandoned or mistreated animals as "orphans" who need someone to stand up for their rights.  Regardless of how you interpret the orphan or the poor, the idea is that of contending for their deliverance, ensuring they are defended and protected. 

Too many focus on "taking a stand" and completely ignore the second part of the command - deliver and rescue them. It is one thing to press for the rights of the poor and orphaned. It is another to actually be the one to make a way for their deliverance or rescue from whatever it is they presently endure.  Plato said, "Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a harder battle."  You never really know just how an act of kindness can be the best means of "standing up for" the poor, needy, or orphaned in our world.  Jesus challenged his disciples to never look beyond the need, but to meet it whenever possible.  We don't need to take up picket signs, pounding the streets in protest, as much as we need to pick up our hands and extend them to meet the needs of the ones we care so passionately to defend!  Just sayin!